Some Zest for Honda's Home Lineup

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Zest Minicar On Sale March 1
The Japanese market has seen variations on the tiny fuel-sipping car theme for many years. In the USA, we may refer to them as minicars. In Japan this class is called “kei cars”. We at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific can fondly remember the Honda City that came with a diminutive motor scooter in the cargo area circa the mid-1980s. Never made it to the States except as Honda test cars or gray market one-offs. The scooter was its claim to fame, but in American traffic a car the size of a Japanese kei car is just a bit frightening. But Japanese car companies need to compete with these types of cars in their home market where where are substantial tax benefits.
Honda introduced its new Zest kei car on March 1 in Japan. In Japan, the Zest kei car class is comprised of cars that meet certain exterior and engine size requirements. Among the requirements are a cap for overall length set at a 3395mm and a power output cap of 64HP. These small cars, while they fall in and out of fashion globally, are in part the result of government restrictions and manipulations in the Japanese economy. High taxes and government rules make kei cars attractive to many Japanese consumers, a situation that does not exist in the States. While on paper, these small cars sound like a terrific solution for U.S. buyers looking for ultra-economic transportation, they are too small to sell in sufficient numbers in the States to be profitable.

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The Zest measures less than 134 inches long, though there is a terrific amount of space inside. While in Japan the segment with cars this size is significant, the Zest is a full sixteen inches shorter than the three-door Toyota Yaris hatcback. Other cars that U.S. buyers consider small have an overall length even further from the Zest, and are pictured below. Mazda’s MX-5 convertible is almost 156 inches long, Scion’s xB is 155 inches long, Toyota’s Yaris sedan is nearly 170 inches long, and Honda’s Fit is more than 157 inches long. These examples seem to be about as small as the North American buyer is willing to go, despite any inherent logic that a small city car may have in terms of inexpensive operation and a usable size for city driving. The fact is that we do not need cars as small as the Zest in the USA, and so far, it doesn’t seem that Americans want them, either. So, admire from afar kei-car enthusiasts! You’ll have to wait til your next trip to Tokyo to see the Zest in person.
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Small and Economic All-Rounder for Spicing Up Your Life.
So, nevermind how this car doesn’t really fit in the States. What does Honda intend it to accomplish in its true market, Japan?

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Honda developed the Zest as a minicar “that can satisfy both individual and family users in a variety of occasions including daily shopping and weekend leisure activities.” In other words, a jack-of-all-trades for the kei class. Zest’s design is a little off, however, with lots of body lines that contradict one another and do not support Honda’s contention that the Zest Sport’s specialty exterior parts further enhance a low and wide look. The Zest looks small and narrow, which it is.
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According to Honda’s launch materials, they chose the name Zest in hopes the vehicle owners will use it to “enjoy stimulating fun and to enrich and broaden their lives.” Ah, those Japanese wordsmiths! At least this is an understandable sentence in English unlike some phrases found on T-Shirts in Tokyo.
Honda defines the word zest as spice, flavor, and fun, though we’re not sure those concepts apply to this particular minicar.
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To get the most usable interior from a small product, the the box employs Honda’s low-floor packaging for tons of interior space (according to Honda, “on par” with the larger StepWGN). Getting in and out is said to be easier as the doors open in three stages, at different angles. The widest angle is wide enough to make getting a child seat in and out as easy as possible. An optional package makes clean up a snap, too, as it includes wipeable floor mats and water-repellent seat material.
Convenience features are impressive, particularly compared with North American small cars, a segment that has traditionally had to go without much of the fun stuff. The little car can be ordered with Honda’s Smart Key system, which allows the driver to unlock or lock the car at a touch of the button. The navigation system includes Honda’s HDD InterNavi system with the InterNavi Premium Club, which combines about any audio/DVD combination one can imagine. A security system includes a hood-detection device and an immobilizer. Front airbags are smart and side curtain airbags for both rows are available. ABS and EBD are standard.
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The four-seater Zest is limited in engines by the same class constraints as it is for size. This means a 660cc DOHC 12v I3, in 52HP or turbocharged 64HP versions. There is only one transmission, a four-speed automatic.

This article has 2 comments

  1. becky 03/01/2006, 12:35 pm:

    After a recent vacation to the Netherland Antilles island of Bonaire, in which ALL of the vehicles were small and fuel efficient, I tried to find something similar in the USA. Not possible! I would LOVE to own a Honda Zest! Can you imagine the reduction in fuel costs if We had access to this type of vehicle? It is a SHAME that we don’t!

  2. R.J. Gorman 05/20/2006, 7:07 am:

    Do they intend to sell the Zest in the U.S.? This would be a great car for disabled persons!!! If Honda doesn’t sell it here, they are making a huge mistake!!

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